Teacher's pets: How to run an animal assembly

When Tom Shaw invited an entire class to bring their pets to assembly, the result was beyond expectations
21st January 2021, 12:00pm
Tom Shaw


Teacher's pets: How to run an animal assembly

In Tes' Round-up Of Handy Guides For Teachers: Asking School Pupils To Bring Their Pets To Online Assembly Can Be Hugely Rewarding, Says Teacher Tom Shaw

In this era of remote learning, engagement with children can be varied and - let's be honest - painful at times.

Sometimes it borders on surreal, like the moment the other day when a dog appeared on screen and licked a child's face. 

I decided to take charge of the moment and asked who else had a pet. Almost everyone, it seemed. Then I heard myself inviting these pets to the morning assembly the next day. 

I clocked my teaching assistant in the corner of the screen, in stitches at the idea (knowing the children and the amount of online learning success that we'd had).

Animal magic

By the following morning, I'd briefed the children about questions they could ask each other about their pets: name, age, how long they'd had them, habitat, food choices and so on.

Meanwhile, it was dawning on me that I'd invited my entire class and their pets into an online assembly when we were yet to master the basics of online learning.

But the posts had started coming in on our online platform with the excitement that Octo, Holly and Smudge were ready. It was too late to turn back now.

I pressed the "meet" button and within seconds was hit with the sound of barks, chirps and squeaks. The "mute all" function gave me time to gather myself before I welcomed the class in my calmest voice and completed the necessities. 

Gazing around the different screens was amazing; there were huge smiles everywhere. And a lot of animals. The children had such a wide variety of pets: dogs, geckos, fish, budgies and more. I realised that they would never have been able to share them like this if it hadn't been for remote learning.

Excitement and buzz

I handed over to my teaching assistant to start the conversational ball rolling: it was calm, structured and educational. Tick, tick, tick. 

Virtual hands were popping up everywhere, and the passion and care the pupils showed will stay with me forever: children explaining why their pet was the most special in the world and had grown up with them and always been there for them through their difficult times, while they affectionately soothed them in front of their friends.

I could see the children turning to the adults in their rooms, pointing excitedly at the animals on the screen. The buzz and excitement was something I'd never felt in online learning before.

One boy, who uses his words very sparingly and often struggles to answer questions in class, looked straight into the camera, took a deep breath and unleashed sentence after sentence about his tropical fish. He has since shared additional home learning with everyone and has found a new confidence.

One girl was holding a rather large guinea pig for her turn. She was in complete control and explained the name, age, breed and food it liked. Great work. 

"Would you like to see another one?" she asked.

"How many more do you have?" I replied.

"About 124 - we are a little bit obsessed!"

Seeing an entire class of jaws dropping at the same time is certainly something I recommend. 

And so is the pet assembly: this off-the-cuff show-and-tell moment has given us so many discussion points going forward and allowed us to break down some of the barriers of online learning.

Perfect your pet assembly

Here are some tips to bear in mind if you're thinking about giving it a go:

  • Invite adults, too - make it a fun affair for everyone.
  • Give pupils time to prepare with question prompts beforehand, and time to ask an adult in the moment if they need to.
  • Make sure you find the "mute all" button prior to the meeting.
  • Leave enough time for everyone to share, even if this takes longer than a normal assembly. I found that every word that came out of those enthusiastic mouths was something to be treasured (for both educational purposes and entertainment alike).
  • Go in with an open mind and accept whatever appears - you may be surprised at what delights you find.

Tom Shaw is a Year 5 teacher at Chapel St Leonards Primary School

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